The Liberal government moved to expedite its “extreme intoxication” bill in the House of Commons Tuesday with a unanimous consent motion, but technical issues in the parliamentary precinct prevented that from happening.
Members of Parliament had unanimously agreed to pass Bill C-28 by Tuesday evening and to convene a study of the House justice committee this fall that would look at the implementation of the bill.
But debate in the House and Senate was suspended late Tuesday evening as technical issues meant proceedings were not being broadcast online and some members could not join debates virtually.
Both chambers have adjourned until Wednesday at 2 p.m.
The Senate was meanwhile conducting its own accelerated process, convening a committee of the whole to debate the bill’s substance.
Justice Minister David Lametti appeared before senators and urged them to share his sense of urgency: “It is important to close this loophole.”
Bill C-28, introduced last Friday, would update the Criminal Code to create a new standard for criminal liability when a person commits a crime “in a state of negligent self-induced extreme intoxication.”
Five weeks earlier, the Supreme Court had struck down the previous wording of Section 33.1 of the Code as unconstitutional.
Its unanimous ruling upheld two acquittals on the basis of an “extreme intoxication” defence and ordered a new trial in a third case.
Lametti has repeatedly condemned social media misinformation that falsely suggests the ruling meant a drunk or high person can get away with sexual assault and other violent crimes.
He referred to this false notion of a “free pass” in urging senators to rubber-stamp the bill quickly, saying that victims’ groups he consulted are on board with its speedy implementation.
Still, several senators raised concerns about whether meaningful consultation could possibly have taken place in five weeks and whether there might be unintended consequences to the bill.
In a letter to senators Tuesday, the chair of the National Association of Women and the Law’s national steering committee wrote that her organization was consulted “mere days” before the bill was tabled, and that its concerns about flaws in the bill were not meaningfully considered.
Parliament “should not act hastily and entrench a flawed bill into law,” wrote Kerri Froc, arguing that it may be too difficult for prosecutors to prove, as the bill’s wording would require, that a reasonable person could’ve foreseen that intoxicants could lead them to become violent.
Several senators raised concerns about whether that burden of proof was realistic.
“What I’m worrying about here, Minister Lametti, is that the proposal, as heartfelt as it is, will miss the mark, and that almost nobody would be able to be convicted under this provision,” said Brent Cotter, an Independent senator from Saskatchewan.
Lametti said he understood the concern but disagreed with it, noting the Supreme Court itself had suggested this approach as one of the government’s legislative options to close the loophole.
He said the standards of criminal negligence used in the bill are already widely used, including in drunk driving cases.
In response to senators’ concerns about not having enough time to look at the bill’s implications, he suggested the Senate’s legal and constitutional affairs committee could schedule a study on the bill’s implementation this fall, just as its House counterpart has done.
—The Canadian Press